The new reception baseline assessment

Written by: HTU | Published:

In March 2014, the Department for Education announced plans to introduce a baseline assessment for all children at the start of reception. Catherine Kirkup, from NFER’s Centre for Assessment, answers some of the big questions that schools have been asking

Why is a baseline assessment being introduced?

The introduction of a baseline assessment is integral to the government’s changes to the primary assessment and accountability arrangements, which focus not only on the attainment of pupils but also on the progress that they make within a school.

In order to take account of progress in primary schools more fully, this will be measured from the earliest point at which most children are in a school, i.e. at the start of reception. There will be a list of approved baseline assessment schemes and the scheme providers will forward school and pupil-level data from the assessments to the Department for Education (DfE).

The case for change is detailed more fully in the DfE’s response to the consultation on assessment and accountability in primary schools (DfE, 2014b). The policy of baseline assessment is also supported by the shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt (Griffiths, 2014).

When is this going to start?

From 2016 onwards, all schools that wish to demonstrate progress for accountability purposes will have to adopt an approved baseline assessment scheme. In 2023, when this cohort of pupils reaches the end of key stage 2, the reception baseline will be the starting point used to measure pupil progress for all-through primary schools. 

Schools can opt to use an approved baseline assessment from September 2015 if they wish to do so. When these children reach the end of key stage 2 (in 2022), their progress will be measured both from the reception baseline and from the end of key stage 1 and schools will be allowed to choose whichever starting point shows the most progress. For schools that do not use a baseline assessment in 2015 (and until 2022), pupil progress will be measured, as now, from the end of key stage 1 to the end of key stage 2.

Will baseline assessment be statutory?

The use of a reception baseline assessment has not been made mandatory; schools may elect not to adopt an approved baseline scheme. However, there is a strong incentive to do so. Under the new accountability arrangements, a school will be considered to be above the floor (the minimum requirements) if it meets either the progress standard or the attainment standard.

In 2023, schools that do not use an approved baseline assessment in 2016 will be judged solely on the attainment of their pupils at the end of key stage 2, i.e. they will have to meet the attainment floor standard. The extent of progress required to meet the standard is not yet known but the principle is that pupils will be compared with other pupils with the same starting points, within schools using the same baseline assessment scheme.

I already assess children on entry – can I carry on as I am doing now?

Only if the baseline assessment scheme you are currently using is included on the DfE’s approved list (see later). If it is approved, you may wish to continue with your current scheme. However, you may wish to consider the alternative schemes that are being newly developed for this purpose.

What will be assessed?

All approved baseline schemes will have to provide assessments linked to the learning and development requirements of the Early Years Foundation Stage in three areas of learning: communication and language, literacy, and numeracy. There may be additional areas of learning at the discretion of the individual scheme providers.

Although all schemes will have to assess the same core areas of learning, the individual skills and knowledge assessed may vary slightly from scheme to scheme. Also, each supplier may offer a slightly different assessment approach; for example, assessments might be delivered, on-screen, on paper or as task-based activities using resources that children can interact and engage with.

Baseline assessments will need to address the different experiences and the different levels of attainment, knowledge and skills that children bring to school. They must be accessible to at least 99 per cent of children, although some children may be able to complete only a small part of the assessment. Schemes may be adaptive or offer appropriate routing to enable all children to demonstrate what they can do.  The assessor must make a single yes/no decision for each assessment “item”. Decisions such as these may feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable to early years practitioners but this is a DfE requirement of all approved baseline assessment schemes, in order to provide the data outcomes necessary to measure progress.

All suppliers on the DfE’s approved list will have to provide evidence that they meet the stringent criteria for baseline assessments (DfE, 2014a). 

When/how will the assessments be administered?

A child’s baseline assessment will have to be administered in their first half-term in a reception class (full-time or part-time attendance) – so for some children this will be in the spring or summer term. The assessment can be administered by a teacher or teaching assistant. Administration guidance will be provided by the scheme provider.


Funding arrangements have yet to be announced.

What about the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile?

Although the Early Years Foundation Stage will continue to be statutory, from September 2016 the EYFS Profile will no longer be compulsory.

What about key stage 1 assessments?

Key stage 1 assessments will remain statutory but will not be used to measure progress for accountability purposes in all-through primary schools.

What about schools that are not all-through?

All schools will be judged on both attainment and progress. Junior and middle schools will be judged on attainment at the end of key stage 2 and on progress from key stage 1 to the end of key stage 2. First and infant schools will be judged on attainment at the end of key stage 1 and consideration is being given as to how progress from the reception baseline will be measured in those schools.

What information will I have to report to parents?

The DfE is yet to announce how results from a reception baseline might best be communicated to parents and how such results should be contextualised. They will be carrying out a research study in autumn 2014, after which they may publish further information on this issue.

How will I choose a baseline scheme?

In early 2015, an approved list of reception baseline assessment schemes will be published by the DfE. You will be able to look at the various schemes available and choose one that you feel is most appropriate for the children at your school. In reaching your decision you may wish to think about the following aspects of each scheme:

  • Is the assessment approach adopted engaging and age-appropriate?
  • Which areas of content are included?
  • What do I know about the experience, expertise and reputation of the scheme provider?
  • What additional information, guidance and services are included that are of value to my school (for example, age-standardised scores, additional data analysis, next steps guidance)?
  • Does the scheme offer real value for money/added value? 

Key dates

  • November/December 2014: Scheme providers will submit evidence of baseline assessments under development to the Department for Education.
  • Early 2015: The Department for Education will publish a list of approved baseline assessments that meet their criteria.
  • Spring term 2015: Schools will be asked to choose a baseline assessment scheme if they wish to use one in autumn 2015.
  • September/October 2015: Optional use of baseline assessments.
  • September/October 2016: Baseline assessments used as part of future accountability arrangements.
  • Summer term 2022: Progress will be measured both from the reception baseline and from the end of key stage 1.
  • Summer term 2023: Progress will be measured from the reception baseline only.


  • Catherine Kirkup is research director at NFER’s Centre for Assessment.

Further information

NFER is developing a baseline assessment scheme for use from September 2015, subject to DfE accreditation. It will be available to pre-order from the end of January 2015. If you would like more information about this assessment as the development progresses, visit and register your interest.


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